Country houses for sale

Spending a term abroad

Whether you head for the Swiss Alps or the lavender-filled fields of Provence, the majority of people investing in a second home abroad are also investing in the earliest years and memories of their children. Today, we have the first scientific evidence that a few months living in a foreign country enhances creativity-especially in children and young adults.

The idea sounds intuitive enough, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support it. Painters and composers such as Picasso and Handel created some of their most celebrated works when living abroad. Now, social psychologist Prof William Maddux of the INSEAD Social Science Research Center (ISSRC) in Paris and his colleague Adam Galinsky have used an exhaustive series of studies and experiments to show how living abroad is associated with enhanced creativity-and the younger the children the better.

‘The sooner you go abroad for the first time, the more it is going to impact on subsequent creativity,’ says Prof Maddux. ‘It makes sense when you think about it, because the brain is constantly changing until you are eight to 12 years old, giving a window of opportunity, especially with languages.’

One of the experimental studies the pair undertook was to ask 133 students to fix a candle to a wall, given a limited number of objects, without the wax spilling. It was found that those who had spent more time abroad were more likely to succeed in tasks that required a creative solution. Concretely, it was revealed that merely travelling abroad had no association with creativity-only living abroad did. ‘Some 60% of those who lived abroad solved problems correctly, compared with only 42% of those who hadn’t,’ explains Prof Maddux. He also believes that exposure to foreign languages and cultures, especially when young, can make us more open to experi-ences and more able to think innovatively.

‘It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instil not only the ability to “think outside the box”, but also the capacity to realise that the box is more than a simple square or  form, it’s a repository of many creative possibilities,’ he explains.

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Addie and Bevil Granville from north Norfolk rented an apartment in the French Alpine resort of Chamonix last year so that their children, Anna, seven, Ben, five, and Jamie, three, could spend a term in a French school. Mrs Granville reckons that it was more than simply a positive experience at the time, but that it was the making of her children and has changed the family, too.

‘It was really just an adventure, an opportunity to show the kids a bigger world, but I can honestly say now that it was a massive turning point in their development,’ she says. ‘Anna got the most amazing inner confidence by throwing herself into a new language and a new school, Ben went back to colouring and jigsaws, which was right for him at that time, and Jamie did brilliantly on skis.’

She believes that the experience has left them all-adults included-much more creative and adaptable to change. ‘The kids are so much more imaginative in their play now,’ says Mrs Granville. ‘They’re quick to make decisions, are physically stronger from the skiing and you get the feeling that it would take a lot more to throw them off their stroke.’ Above all, Addie believes the whole family returned from Chamonix a stronger unit, partly because they had no television or after-school activities to distract them.

Certainly, much of the market in second homes abroad in the past decade has been driven by parents looking for resorts and settings in which their children can flourish in mind as much as in body. It was this demographic that DPS Sporting Club Development Company (DPS) had in mind when it devised its sporting club communities at key locations, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Ambergris Cay on the Turks & Caicos Islands. DPS specialises in what chief marketing officer Robert Rippee terms ‘enriching family experiences’.

‘Families today are looking for much more for their children and themselves,’ he says. ‘What we do as a company is provide the experts to make that possible.’ For example, the programmes run by educationalists and experts at DPS Ambergris Cay, where properties cost from $525,000 to $6 million, include bone-fishing, biking and water sports, such as diving, sea kayaking, sailing and windsurfing.

If the DPS Sporting Life philosophy is about embracing the great outdoors, it also chimes with what many parents fear: that their children spend too much time in front of computers and less playing outdoors. Anxious parents have exacerbated the problem by regarding the bedroom and the SUV as safe places for their offspring compared with the fearful world outside. A second home abroad is often seen as somewhere for children to encounter nature safely and learn new skills.

‘Major draws for families buying a second home in the South of France are the educational aspects and the chance to expose their children to another culture,’ explains Andrew Hawkins, head of international at Chesterton Humberts. ‘Parents are recognising the importance of their children having a second or third language, and owning a second home in a country where a different one is spoken enables their child to pick up a language much more quickly.’    

A parental backlash against the globalised era of the iPod and other blandly uniform technological distractions perhaps explains another attraction of second homes in enthralling locations. Today, parents often feel that basing themselves abroad for a couple of months of the year is the most effective way of encouraging their children to express their individual imaginations and creativity.

‘Over the years, I have noticed what an advantage it has been for our clients’ children to soak up new cultures and meet new people from different backgrounds,’ says Charles Weston-Baker, head of the international department at Savills, who is currently looking for a house in Rome for a British aristocrat who intends to educate his children there for six months of the year.  

But Mr Weston-Baker also reckons that affluent and aspirational families also regard certain geographical regions and resorts as something of a social networking and old boys’ network. For instance, Quinta do Lago on the Algarve in Portugal, where the average villa price is about €3 million, is not only somewhere children can enjoy legions of activities within the resort, but is a place for them to make the right kind of lifelong friends.

‘Owning properties in fantastic resorts means children meet other children from many different countries within their own age, which gives them a broader view,’ says Mr Weston-Baker. ‘They also make the kinds of friends from around the world that might prove useful in future.’ After all, great artists have always needed influential and affluent patrons.